Fiesta Finale: A Courthouse Romance Felt for Generations

By Profant Family   |   July 19, 2022
The Children’s Parade in the 1960 Old Spanish Days celebrations

It is a warm summer afternoon in 1950, and you are resting in the shadow of the Courthouse Clock Tower. Your gaze lights upon two well-dressed young ladies as they follow a docent into the cool entry of the Grand Archway. Intrigued by the history lesson unfolding, you mount the staircase and join the group to marvel at the 360-degree view of mountains, ocean, and the quaint, red-tiled roofs of the town that is California’s Riviera. 

Newlyweds Jack and Lyn Profant in 1951

“You’re here at just the right time: Fiesta is always held under the first full moon of August!” an exuberant local tells the ladies. “That’s when we recreate the warm hospitality of the Rancho Period. There are parties all week and everyone dresses in costumes of the old Spanish days. And you must go to El Paseo, the heart of it all, with the best music and dancing. It is so romantic… the scent of the gardenias is in the air, and you girls will have a lovely time.” 

And with that, you have overheard the start of a fairytale, the story of how a new world opened for the young ladies, along with thousands of other fortunate visitors who help change the quaint town into the thriving cultural mecca it is today. Like you, admiring the Courthouse architecture, Lyn and her sister listened to the well-documented facts about the architect, the style, the botanical specimens… but the rest of the city’s many stories became local legends.

A few years later, intrigued by the prospect of fun and romance, the ladies revisit Santa Barbara during Fiesta time and wander through the charming courtyard of El Paseo, with its picturesque fountain and flag-lined Street of Spain. They enter the restaurant, and it isn’t long before a tall, dark-haired young man asks Lyn to dance. With his background as a ballroom and flamenco dancer, and hers as a ballerina, they are a hit on the dance floor. That night Lyn excitedly tells her roommate, “I found the man of my dreams!” She’s shocked to see a disappointed look. “Oh, darn. I was going to introduce you to the perfect fella!” The banter goes on, until they realize they are talking about the same guy – Jack Profant! A few days later “Jackie” picks Lyn up for their first date, a concert produced by CAMA, the Community Arts Music Association. The next day Lyn is in the audience at the Bowl when Jack performs with the José Manero Dance Troupe. At the end of the performance, horses wander down the hill behind the Bowl, their riders carrying flaming torches that dance in the moonlight. Lyn and her new beau go across the street to a little bungalow for the cast party. Afterward, as they cruise in his Plymouth down Cabrillo Boulevard, he sings “Autumn Leaves” in French, and tells stories of how the Old Spanish Days Fiesta – and CAMA – came to be. 

The Profant family gets ready for Fiesta in 1960

In the early 1920s, Santa Barbara was a popular destination for easterners looking for good weather and the healing effects of the Hot Springs. The growing population needed a medical facility, so Dr. Sansum, along with four other doctors, started the Santa Barbara Clinic. Jack’s father Henry Profant was one of the founding doctors. He brought his wife, Mabel, from Chicago and built a Mediterranean home just past the Old Mission. Lockwood de Forest had persuaded the young couple to move next door and designed the garden with a pergola and bench placed – just so – beside the fountain. At the time people asked, “Why so far from town?” but soon the horses that wandered the Canyon were replaced with Model T’s. 

Henry and Mabel were both pianists who enjoyed entertaining guests in their lovely home – on their two baby grands. Today’s hospitals and universities incorporate music therapy into their programs but Henry started 100 years ago, playing the piano during house calls so the patient was never sure if it was his medicine or his music that was the cure! It was no surprise that their daughter Dorothy, and her daughter as well, became students at the Music Academy of the West. Mabel was happiest as a volunteer photographer there, capturing moments when celebrated musicians visited in the summertime. In the fall, the Profants joined some friends committed to bringing orchestras to Santa Barbara. That group endeavor became the Community Arts Music Association, which still brings renowned orchestras from around the world to the Arlington, Granada, and Lobero theaters.

Mabel launched the CAMA Women’s Board to assist with fundraising, and when city officials decided a festival was the best way to increase tourism, the couple joined the Old Spanish Days committee. They were tasked with bringing music to the Courthouse, and soon the Sunken Garden was filled with costumed partygoers dancing and singing under the full August moon.

Preserving Fiestas Past

It is a decade or two later: “Jackie” and Lyn raise four daughters who are excited to attend the Old Spanish Days Fiesta every year. The bright polka-dot costumes are designed in January! And the Children’s Parade is the highlight of the week’s festivities, for they can ride in a Spanish galleon float decorated with crêpe paper (by their father) in the living room of the Mission Canyon home. After the parade, with Carnation vanilla ice cream cups given out at the end, a trip to the Mexican Village (De la Guerra Plaza) is always a treat. The glassblower is an artist at work, making plain rods into sparkling little poodles and colorful castles for sale. After that, and with wide-eyed adoration, the girls stand on tiptoe as they peek through El Paseo’s restaurant window and past the musicians to marvel at the flamboyant flamenco dancers on stage. At home during warm August nights, they watch Lyn put on a red ruffled dress and pin a gardenia in her hair before going downtown with her handsome husband. The girls long to have such a romantic dream come true! 

Tenor Marco Labastida performs at Fiesta Finale 2019

Sadly, when the girls were old enough in the 1970s, they felt that Santa Barbara’s downtown bacchanal was nothing like the elegant Fiesta they remembered, or had envisioned…

Fast forward to the year 2000. Jack (now known as John) has passed away without realizing his dream to help the Santa Barbara arts community during retirement, so Lyn creates an organization in his memory to mark 50 years since they met. She envisions a Fiesta party with a show the entire public can enjoy, firmly believing that just one live performance can convince a person of any age to pursue their talent. According to her, that lifelong belief stemmed from the years she spent teaching children to unlock their creativity. Innate talent doesn’t end with adulthood, so she persuaded John to take singing lessons in his 40s. And then he sang along with Pavarotti while driving to Fiesta parades! Together they lived the dream of following their passions throughout their lives…

Mabel Profant dressed up for the 1928 Fiesta
SB Piano Bros Rhyan and Zeyn Schweyk and Profant Foundation recipients

To help Lyn launch this organization, her four daughters wanted an elegant cocktail party and fundraiser with professional singers and dancers to entertain the donors. A Sunday night event would alleviate the sadly empty stages at the end of a week of Fiesta parties. If they added artwork that “came to life” it would be yet another childhood dream that could become a reality. And where better than the Courthouse Garden to announce that arts scholarships were available?

Diana Vandervoort assisted with the logistics, for her parents not only met at Fiesta, they produced the Courthouse Noches de Ronda for decades, followed by their daughter and granddaughter. With the assistance of Ms. Vandervoort, then-El Presidente Scott Burns, his wife, Lisa, and the multi-talented Erin Graffy, the Old Spanish Days board welcomed the new nonprofit event to bring a close to the week of festivities.

Since 2000 (yet with roots in the 1920s), the mission of the Profant Foundation has been to preserve Santa Barbara’s cultural heritage through exhibits and performances, and grant scholarships to artists of all ages in the fields of music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts. The Spanish galleon logo signifies the artists’ journeys that The Profant Foundation for the Arts foster through the annual gala fundraiser, Fiesta Finale. For several years it was held in the Courthouse Sunken Garden, later moving to another favorite place filled with memories, El Paseo Restaurant.

The Martinez Family – the musical group that was playing at the restaurant those many decades ago – now carry on their parents’ tradition of providing Latin songs throughout Fiesta Finale, and there are artists like the legendary pianist Gil Rosas, opera stars, ballerinas, tango, and ballroom dancers – the party gets better all the time! And that artwork that “comes to life”? It’s called Tableaux Vivant and it has become a feature every year, as singers and dancers re-create a work of art, posing for photographers before they come to life and perform for the crowd.

The Profants and a multitude of families that are proud of their Santa Barbara heritage are living happily ever after in the American Riviera. They invite both new and established residents to join Old Spanish Days Fiesta festivities and add Fiesta Finale to their calendar on Sunday, August 7 at El Paseo Restaurant.

For reservations, please visit or call (805) 450-2001. This community and its volunteer spirit have made this story possible. Many thanks from the Profant Family!


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